Politics in Indian Cinema

Posted on June 9, 2010 by


Politics!  Save for the odd neta types sprinkled around, this fascinating area remains largely unexplored in Indian cinema. Perhaps it’s a matter of courage – why antagonize the powers that be ? Film aficionados may remember that Gulzar’s Aandhi ran into trouble and never made it to the theaters because of the supposed – or real – parallels to then-PM Indira Gandhi’s life. Not everyone has the courage or the standing to tangle with politicians .

Or perhaps it’s the feeling that political projects are not bankable; that audiences are mostly looking for escapist fare.  Making a full-length film is quite an investment , so the prospect of the film running to empty halls is not for the faint-hearted. And finally, it’s probably a matter of talent as well – how does one explore a complex issue without taking sides? How does one avoid the temptation of righteous indignation or the call to stereotype? How does one, in the end, make a film that does more than just entertain ?

Unsurprisingly, the directors who have chosen to explore the political genre are some of the most talented we have in India : Gulzar, Mani Ratnam, Prakash Jha and Ram Gopal Varma, to name a few.

Here, then, on the heels of the release of Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti, MoovieShoovie and its community members present the pick of India’s political movies.Special thanks to  community member Mihir Trivedi for his contributions. Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you ..

India’s Best Political Cinema

Aandhi Directed by : Gulzar

This 70’s movie was supposed to have been based on Indira Gandhi’s life and was banned on release. Despite immortal songs such as “Tum Aa Gaye Ho” and stellar performances by Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen, this movie never got its due. Even today, it’s hard to lay one’s hands on a copy of the film.

Gangaajal Directed by : Prakash Jha

Set in the heartland, this is the story of an upright police officer who wants to improve law and order, only to find that his political masters are the selfsame thugs who have managed to get themselves into the houses of parliament. Frustrated, he begins to use a questionable method to enforce law and order. Gracy Singh plays his wife, who is horrified at his moral descent. Sadly, her relentless probing only serves to drive the couple further apart .

Satta Directed by : Madhur Bhandarkar

Raveena Tandon plays a woman who marries into a politically powerful family. She turns into a politician herself to get back at her husband and his family; and to make herself heard. She creates a niche for herself as being a woman politician was not much appreciated in that time and place. As opposed to other films of the political genre where the protagonist himself/herself has to compromise on their basic moral character to manipulate the levers of the system, Satta shows a main character who exploits the system while remaining unsullied herself.

Main Azad Hoon Directed by : Tinnu Anand

One of the best performances by Amitabh Bachchan to date, this movie was way ahead of it time in portraying the relationship between media and politics. Shabana Azmi plays a journalist who chances upon a device to voice her frustration, penning a column in the name of Azad.  The column becomes an unexpected hit. She looks for a way to extend its run with the connivance of her editor and props up a homeless man as the original author. Based on Capra’s “Meet John Doe”, this movie is entirely believable in the Indian setting, thanks to strong writing and performances.

Sarkar Directed by : Ram Gopal Varma

Sarkar shows that there is a very thin line between the underworld and politics. This is considered another of Ambitabh Bachchan’s stronger roles, wherein he plays – let’s call a spade a spade – a Godfatherish figure and political leader with a righteous streak. Kay Kay Menon and Abhishek Bachchan  play his sons, one a gadabout and the other an earnest US-returned fellow who ends up bearing the mantle of Sarkar.

Apaharan Directed by : Prakash Jha

The film , set in Bihar , tells the story of a tumultuous and complex relationship between an honest father and son, set against the backdrop of a thriving kidnapping industry . Inspired by his father, a socialist leader, Ajay Devgan wants to be a police officer. Thwarted in his aims, he makes a deal with the devil – or the local don – in order to fund his wearing of the khakhi vardi and sets into motion a sequence of events filled with betrayals and double-crosses.

Iruvar (Tamil) Directed by : Mani Ratnam

Said to be based on the true-life stories of two giants of Tamil politics – MGR and Karunanidhi – Iruvar traces the story of two friends, one a script-writer and the other a struggling actor. As their stars ascend, they come to the notice of the legendary political leader, Annadurai. Together, they bring the political party to dizzying heights. But when they find themselves in contention for the chief minister’s chair, their friendship turns into rivalry . Mohanlal and Prakash Rai play the leading roles.

Satya Directed by : Ram Gopal Varma

The film is the story of a young man, who chases a dream to Mumbai and ends up in the underworld. It is the story of men for whom killing is just another job. It lights flashbulbs in the underworld, a world that is dark, murky and unpredictable. Satya tries to hold on to a promise of a normal life with the woman he loves but that dream slips from his grasp as the consequences of his actions come home to roost. Manoj Bajpai as Biku Mhatre essays the role of a lifetime and pulls it off.

New Delhi Times Directed by : Ramesh Sharma

This movie is probably lost for good … a pity, since it is said to be an exceptionally well-made movie about an investigative journalist who is horrified to uncover the close links between gangsterism and politics. He risks his life and limb to unravel the treads of two tragedies, one a mass death caused by spurious liquor and the other, the death of a political leader. He finds them connected to a single individual, a rising politician.  Determined  to uncover the truth, he finds that he is being manipulated for political gains .

Generally, political thrillers don’t have happy endings. Should there be movies in which the individual triumphs over the system ? Surely, there must be a few cases in a country as vast as ours. Are the tragic endings formulaic in their own way ? Tell us on this blog , on our fan page and at our app, First Show